a(nother) visual experiment (draft, comments are very welcome)

Wow, 2 months now without blogging. How did that happen? And while I now feel the need to share some recent reflections, I feel a bit rusty and my thoughts are random and messy. Can I put some kind of order and present them in a way that will help me connect with others and start a conversation about some of the issues I would like to explore here?

I just returned from my holidays in Greece and feel the need to reflect on me sharing my Greece in images using social media through my phone during my stay there. I have been experimenting with images before and created a series of photovoices but also use them regularly in my teaching and learning. I have to say that it wasn’t a planned act, more an idea that popped into my head and when I started, I felt the need to continue until the end. It started feeling like a visual story, so I gave it a beginning, a middle and an end.

I am sharing here my thoughts about this experience and would very much welcome your views on this as well. People who know me will say that I never stop working… and will also say that I worked through my holidays… but if you love what you do, whatever you do, doesn’t feel like work… that is my answer. Also, since I have been active on Facebook and instagram, some might say that I wasn’t really away… not disconnected. And if this is the case, has connectivity made some of us more needy to seek and maintain the connections? Are we hungry for communication, non-stop communication? Do we need this dialogue all the time? Is this something we expect? Is this actually good for us? Have we become more impatient? Do we want everything now? Is it because we can share somethig when it happens, when we feel it, when it is fresh, that we want to share our happiness, sadness or anger with others? These are all fascinating questions and useful to explore in a learning and teaching context but also more widely.

Ok, let’s start. My iPhone was always in my pocket or not far away and the charger too! An extra continental adapter was also with me all the time.

Using the iPhone

  • the phone size is great when travelling. Fits in every pocket in every bag. This can also be a bad thing especially for women who tend to use massive bags… Pleased I have a protective cover on the screen. Still the scratches are there. Not sure if some of them are on the glass too… haven’t replaced the cover… maybe I should to find out especially since I dropped it ones on the tarmac… but it didn’t break. I was lucky!!!
  • the screen feels tiny when you use the phone all the time. Pictures are ok but the text can be a nightmare (I probably also need reading glasses!!! and had to get myself a pair…) :  The letters are harder to read when my eyes are tired and using the iPhone tires them out faster, I think. It would be good if the size of letters could be adjusted! Taking photographs in the sunshine could also be a problem. While I knew what I wanted to take, I could not always see it on the screen because of the bright sunshine! It is a shame that this happens and I am sure the technology is out there to produce a better screne for sunny climates?
  • easy to use: I found it really easy to get into taking photographs with the phone and uploading them through instagram (many of them were forwarded to Facebook too). Even the basic picture editing functions were useful! I took loads more photographs with the phone than with my digital camera. This was a big change for me.
  • double camera: great way to bring the photographer more into the picture! I was used to be behind the camera but now, I can actually take photographs of myself too more easily without relying always on other people. But there is a problem with taking the photographs. A self-timer would help and a tripod too, probably. Not sure if the phone has a self-timer but I couldn’t find one.
  • there were times when I was afraid I would drop the phone. Especially when shooting on the ferry over the water. It would be realy good if a strap could be attached to the phone, just like the cameras have and older phones where you had a little loop for charms. Does this make sense?
  • zooming in and nightshots: couldn’t make that work for me in most cases. The flash didn’t work as I wanted it to! I think the functionalities for such images are still very limited. This was a shame because I had always to have my digital camera with me as well. Too many gadgets??? If the iphone is a multigadget, it could be more reliable… do I ask for too much?
  • battery life: It didn’t even last a full day. I changed all the settings so that I would get more juice out of my phone but even that wasn’t enough! Always had to carry the cable and the adaptor, so I definitely needed a bag! I understand that there are external batteries you can attach when you ran out but there is an obvious solution here, to integrate a mini solar panel on the phone. Why hasn’t this be done yet??? When will we make better use of the resources available to us on the go? On the ferry I had another problem. The sockets were so high (almost on the ceiling!!! see pic). The cable I had was not long enough and I had to be resourceful to make it work. Should I carry an extension cord too??? I also got a car charger… which was useful at times.
without flash

pitch black, without flash

Using the internet in Greece

blending blues

blending blues

Before I left the UK, I investigated what the deal was with using my phone in Greece. My phone is sim free and I have a contract with Three. All-you-can-eat data is part of the deal and I love this. Why can this deal not operate abroad as well? Why do we need to activate our phones so that it works there as well? Don’t get this at all! Is it just so that companies make more money? Why can’t companies not agree among them, so that the contract we have in one country is un-interrupted when travelling to another country? Would this be too easy? Anyway. Three told me that I would have to pay £5 a day to get unlimited internet while in Greece. Hmmm. Didn’t like that number and decided to wait and see what deals I could get in Greece.

So pleased that my phone is sim free!!! Just had to change the micro-sim while there! Easy peasy… well, almost! My nephew directed me towards Vodafone GR. And yest, they had a better deal that Three in the UK! For 1 EUR, I could have the web on a daily basis and unlimited. Wow. After sticking in the new sim and a few hickups (you see I am not technical minded…) I managed with the help of the Vodafone people in Porto Rafti to get it working but the first think I noticed was that while my access was unlimited… the speed that I could access it was reduced as soon as I uploaded a specific number of images and when this happened, I mean when the slow speed kicked in, what still worked well were Twitter and Skype. Google stuff and Facebook were really slow and all instagram uploads failed then. But I did have the internet all the time… well, when the battery wasn’t flat, of course 😉

I say, I had the internet al the time and it probably was almost all the time. Even when on the ferry. But also what I quickly noticed is, that there was free wifi access in loads of public places, not just in Athens but also at the port at Rafina and and on the island of Naxos (even on some of the beaches!!!). Also, many hotels, tavernas and cafes provide also free wifi! I was really impressed by that and started using it more as the days progressed and I realised the limits of my paid internet access. At least with the wifi, I could also update my apps and do all the picture uploading too.

Sharing

If you know me, you also know that I am a very open person. I love sharing and having conversations with people about ideas and exchange views on things. Sharing using digital media is an extension of my nature, I guess and comes somehow naturally to me… At times, I have been sharing too much, too sensitive and not-processed stuff ;(, I am aware of that and am now trying to manage this a bit more. This is hard for me since what I do and what I feel about what I do and see are interconnected.

I have found it very useful to explore my views and emotions through pictures and melt my visual and emotional world through using captions on images.  My Greece, is definitely my Greece and not everybody will understand the pictures I took, why I took them and what they mean to me. Others might interprete my images in a different way too. But that is fine. Today, I actually showed some of them to Dave, my train friend, and he looked strangly at me when looking at some of the pictures. But looking at something doesn’t necessarily mean seeing. We need to see to discover and that needs engagement! Captions can give a hint. For me, images act as visual memories. They help me look back and reflect and try and make sense of what I noticed and what this means to me. Interpretations will change over time and the further away in time we are the meaning will be alterned… I think. So, do I really create them for myself? Not sure, I don’t think I would share them, if that would be the case. Or is it somehow ‘revealing’ stuff about myself through what I see? I got some re-actions from others, some likes and comments via Facebook and instagram. Mini conversations? Not sure if I would call them conversations… but at least there was some interaction with some of the images and myself. Why do we share? Why do you share? Is there an expectation when we share something with others that moves us?

I shared my favourite pictures on Facebook and a few on Twitter. Why did I do this? It was a conscious decision. Facebook is somehow a  more informal and personal space for me while through Twitter, I connect more with professionals, most of whom I have never met. At times, it is of course hard to distinguish and the boundaries of personal and professional are blurring more and more.

What I have learnt through this experiment

It was definitely worth doing this. I have managed to share my Greece with others and I think some of the images might have revealed a lot about me, what I like and what I don’t like, what is important for me and what isn’t…

plus

  • pocket technology is really easy to use these days, even the non-technical minded, like me, can manage
  • we can easily connect with others through the use of social media available on the go and share our experiences, ideas and thoughts in a variety of formats.
  • expressing creatively on the go in a more visual way
  • capturing special moments as they happen and share them rapidly
  • reflect on experiences through images
  • make sense of your own experiences and understand yourself better?
  • gives you a purpose, something to do and engage creatively on a regular basis
  • free wifi when available is an added bonus and an additional enabler (use it to upload images etc.)

minus

  • a (sim-free) smartphone or tablet is required – these are costly little machines!
  • extra cost to get a new sim and pay for internet access in another country (while paying a proper contract in the home country)
  • uploading images can ‘eat’ all your internet time ;( (didn’t try to upload a video but this would be best done when a  wifi connection is available) – unlimited internet is not always unlimited! Read the small print too and get advice!!!
  • time consuming activity, time needs to be devoted to taking photographs (some editing might be required), creating captions (didn’t always do this…) and uploading but also responding to comments, if you want a dialogue.
  • two-way communication not always obvious. There will be people lurking. The same people seem to comment. This will be your critical mass, which might bring additional people into the conversation at a later stage. Others will comment privately.
  • can easily become an addiction? Yes, it can!
  • setting the technology up in a foreign country can be a nightmare for less technical-minded individuals

Application for Learning and Teaching

I think sharing experiences, thoughts, ideas and emotions in a more visual way in work-based learning contexts to develop reflective skills. A sense of connectidness and community could be created and achieved if the approach I used would be refined further to suit a specific cohort of students and a buddy system might also be useful.

Sharing experiences during a placement via images can be a powerful tool to get started reflecting on own practice and encourage a dialogic approach. But we need to develop our visual literacy.

The big problem I see here is the availability of the technology. Do we expect all students to have a smartphone or a tablet? How can we be more inclusive in our learning and teaching? Could, for example universities provide a smartphone as part of the fees the students pay? Some unis give tablets, I have heard. If students stay in the same country, the cost will be smaller. Wherever students would be, free wifi spots could be identified in advance, as well as internet cafes.

resourceful on ferry

The most important part for me would be that tutors need to know what they want to achieve and how the technology can help them. They need to design learning activities that are meaningful, motivating and empowering. It will be important to define a focus and what is to be achieved through this exercise from the beginning and at the same time enable students to express creatively and have the freedom to take this activity where they feel they benefit most. Tutors and students need to familiarise with the technology in advance so that it doesn’t become a barrier of and for learning.

My plan for the PGCAP and the core module is to trial the development of reflection through images in semester 1.  More to follow about this in the near future.

If this post made you think, I would love to hear from you.

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